My last night with my host family my host mom Marcella said to me: “Você sempre será nossa filha.” You will always be our daughter. I often think about this. In the span of seven months, I went from a stranger to a daughter. My host families openness towards me is something I admire deeply about them. From day one they made me feel like apart of the family. Granted in the beginning it was hard for me to find my place within their family. Communication was limited and heavily reliant on Google Translate, but they always stuck with me.
A night about two weeks into my homestay I had a really bad panic attack, I woke up at 3 a.m. in tears. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I was sobbing. I assume Marcella heard me, she said nothing about it during the moment. But the next morning at breakfast she hugged me and said “Natalie, você é uma menina forte. Eu sei que esse momento é difícil, mas passará.” Natalie, you are a strong girl. I know this moment is hard but it will pass. It was like Marcella knew what I needed to hear. During my hard moments, I repeated what she told me that morning, “I know this moment is hard, but it will pass.” The sentence often kept me going.
My host family was the biggest part of my year. Alexandre, Marcella, Maria, and Julia opened their hearts to me and each of them taught me so much. From day one with his big smile and contagious laugh Alexandre became my second dad. Every morning greeting me with a hug and kiss on the head and a loud “Bom dia!” Alexandre was always willing to just sit and talk to me, make me laugh on my bad days, or lend me an ear if I needed to talk. He was simply always ready for a conversation about anything. Alexandre taught me to closely listen to everyone and that sometimes a bit of positivity goes a long way.
Marcella taught me to open my heart to everyone. I feel honored that I got to learn from her every day. Marcella has one of the biggest hearts and nicest personalities that I have ever encountered. My first night in their home she wrote me a letter in English because she knew I didn’t understand Portuguese at all. The simple action meant so much to me. When I got sick and I couldn’t speak she was right there, next to me making sure I was okay. She never left my side. Marcella taught me that love is more than blood, and that a little bit of kindness goes a long way.
While Julia may look young, she is wise beyond her 21 years. When I found out I was going to be living with an older sister I got so excited. I only had a brother at in Chicago. Julia lived up to every expectation and more. She was always there for me when I wanted to talk. She opened the doors of her room to me always. She took me out with her friends. She shared advice and sat for hours and helped me with my broken Portuguese. Julia taught me to open my heart to everyone.
From day one Maria had a smile on her face. She was constantly smiling and laughing around the house. Maria would often dance. My first memory of her is her dancing and singing to Drake. Maria’s energy spreads like wildfire, and I can’t wait until she is president of Brasil. Maria taught me to always smile big and bright.
The lessons I learned of self-love, confidence, calmness, and many more come from my host family. The truth is Brasil taught me that family can extend beyond borders. That love and support can come from thousands of miles away, and it will always be there when you need it. I feel so lucky that I get to call Alexandre, Marcella, Maria, and Julia my family now. I love each of them deeply and no matter where I go I will carry the lessons they taught me with me forever.